HARARE – First Lady Grace Mugabe’s much-talked about birthday Fundraising Dinner Dance — to be attended by most of Zimbabwe’s well-heeled and who’s who of politics and business — will be held on Saturday.
And for the privilege of attending the 50th birthday dinner date with President Robert Mugabe’s controversial but increasingly influential wife, the hundreds of invitees will each cough up a whopping $2 000 for a seat.
Known for her expensive penchant for glitz and glamour, the former typist in Mugabe’s office — who had her first child, Bona, with the nonagenarian while his late first wife, Sally, was bedridden with kidney problems — has often hogged the limelight for the wrong reasons.
Grace has often been heavily criticised for allegedly going on expensive overseas shopping sprees. It was claimed in 2003 that she had spent an astonishing $120 000 during one such trip to the French capital Paris.
At the same time other local critics say while it is good idea that she set up a school in Mazowe that targets the poor on the face of it, it is ironic that she charges about $3 000 per term to students — making it one of the most expensive schools in Zimbabwe.
Over and above that, Grace also owns a multi-million dollar dairy farm, with a processing plant that is rated one of the best in the Sadc region.
Social and political analysts yesterday described Grace’s penchant for the finer things in life, in a country where the majority of people cannot afford a decent meal and live well below the poverty datum line, as embarrassing and “a disgrace” — the latter a play on her name.
“It appears that she is not sensitive to the social welfare and economic difficulties of Zimbabweans. She is a first lady and in the upper echelons of a public organisation, Zanu PF, hence her actions are always subject to public scrutiny,” said University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure.
He added that as such, “she should be advised to take a low profile in her celebrations. I am aware of instances were such celebrations have been suspended”.
Human rights activist Dewa Mavhinga described today’s lavish birthday bash as “an insult to the suffering millions in Zimbabwe who are wallowing in poverty”.
“It also shows just how out of touch with reality the ruling elite have become and this does not augur well for a bright future for the country. To think that the first lady is being touted as a possible successor to President Mugabe crushes all hope for a better future for all.
“It means after Mugabe we are likely to have more of the same mediocre and insensitive leadership that fails to put people first,” Mavhinga said.
Academic Ibbo Mandaza blamed Mugabe for the birthday extravagance, saying it started with the nonagenarian spoiling himself courtesy of the 21st February Movement earlier this year.
Like Mavhinga, Mandaza also observed that Grace’s affinity for luxury showed how the ruling elite were oblivious to what their subjects were going through — adding that it was worrisome that the country had leaders who behaved “as if they come from another planet”.
“Unfortunately that is the culture of our ruling class, to enjoy themselves oblivious of the imminent future,” added Mandaza.
However, the chairperson of the committee organising Grace’s bash, Rodney Dangarembizi, defended the event, saying it was meant to raise funds for charity.
“I cannot tell you how many guests we are expecting for security reasons, but the response has been quite good. Let me clarify that of what is generated, every cent will go to charities, not hosting the event. She wants to fundraise for blankets and whatever the charities listed need,” he said.
Insiders said that about 2 000 people would attend the party — raising millions of dollars in individual, group and corporate “donations”.
But the director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, Pedzisai Ruhanya, dismissed as “hogwash” Dangarembizi’s claims — arguing that the profligacy being displayed by the First Family was “characteristic of Grace”.
“What she (Grace) is doing contradicts her public posturing that depicts her as a philanthropist. We know she has primitively accumulated wealth through properties such as Gracelands.
“All the humanitarian talk is garbage because she is not like that. She is not humble, she is not hard working and she is controversial in everything including her contested academic qualifications.
“Who does not know how she evicted people in Mazowe? Who do not know that she took away Mugabe from Sally?” Ruhanya said.
He also blasted Grace for pretending to be well-mannered against the background of her public humiliation of former Vice President Joice Mujuru whom she accused of plotting to kill Mugabe.
“Can Grace compare herself to Mujuru in terms of their contribution to the welfare of Zimbabweans? Both politically and romantically there is nothing humble about Grace.
“Look at how she treated Mujuru. You do not stamp on innocent people’s toes and then claim to be humble. That is not what a humble person does,” Ruhanya said.
The Daily News accurately reported two weeks ago that some Zanu PF officials were moving around the country coercing stressed private sector and State-owned companies to bankroll Grace’s lavish 50th birthday bash — a milestone she reaches today.
This is not the first time that controversy has been ignited in the country regarding birthday celebrations for members of the first family.
Earlier this year, there was widespread unhappiness after the same modus operandi was used to raise funds for Mugabe’s 91st birthday that was held in the resort town of Victoria Falls.
Grace, who has lately been flaunting her power and bragging about instructing senior government officials including the country’s two vice presidents, was appointed head of Zanu PF’s powerful Women’s League last December, giving her an automatic place in the ruling party’s politburo.
She recently caused huge embarrassment to the country’s two vice presidents, Phelekezela Mphoko and Emmerson Mnangagwa, when she boasted that they came to her to receive notes on how to run the country.
At the same time, Grace’s name has often been used by senior Zanu PF officials to extort money from unsuspecting individuals and companies, claiming falsely that they would have been sent by the controversial first lady.
Former powerful Zanu PF youth leader in Harare, Godwin Gomwe, and a number of other party youths, are in court facing charges of extortion after being accused of using Grace’s name to forcibly take money from people.
Grace, née Marufu was born on July 23, 1965. She has been married to Mugabe since 1996. Previously, she was married to Stanley Goreraza, an air force pilot, now working in the Department of Foreign Affairs and serving overseas, reportedly in China.
Before her marriage to Mugabe, she was a typist in the President’s Office where she met the nonagenarian and became his mistress.
In 2014, Grace was awarded a controversial doctorate in sociology by the University of Zimbabwe, allegedly only two months after registering at the university, with the degree widely described as fraudulent.
During Mugabe’s own 91st birthday celebrations, Zanu PF was mired in an embarrassing financial scandal after it emerged that companies were duped into depositing cash donations running into millions of dollars into a parallel 21st February Movement bank account.
It was suggested at the time that unsuspecting companies could have deposited as much as $13 million into the parallel account, which could not be accounted for.
Three suspects — a national women’s league executive member, a State residence employee and a businesswomen with powerful political connections based in the Midlands province — were sucked into the scandal.